Young seminarians struggle with stereotypes, build network
June 6, 2005
A UMNS Feature
By Vicki Brown*
When young adult seminarians look around their classroom, most of their fellow students are old enough to be their parents or grandparents. So the chance to simply talk with others who have also been told they looked cute in the pulpit, or had everyone assume they will be the youth minister, is one of the biggest benefits of the Young Adult Seminarian Network.
Missy Meyers, a student at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, said her fellow young seminarians feel strongly that the group, formed last year, must be about more than the members' own personal needs.
"We want it to be something that's vital to the church," said Meyers, the group's facilitator.
With that in mind, some 40 young seminarians have agreed to an AIDS initiative, modeled after the United Methodist Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty, that will begin with AIDS awareness programs and volunteer work in October (dates will vary from campus to campus). The group plans prayer vigils on each campus on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
"With increasing urgency, we hear the voice of God calling us to respond to the cries of these violated and vulnerable people," the network said. In its statement, the group called for prayer, education and awareness, and fund raising.
Paula Cripps, a Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology student, said the initiative developed out of a desire to do justice ministry. While meeting recently in Jackson, Miss., seminarians volunteered at Grace House, a local AIDS ministry.
Next spring, the network is planning fund-raisers, with proceeds divided among a local AIDS ministry near each campus, Grace House in Jackson, Miss., and the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
The Rev. Luther Felder, director of the campus ministry section of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, believes young seminarians have a crucial role to play in the United Methodist Church.
"I think we absolutely need more young people entering seminary," Felder said. A balance is needed between young adults and older seminarians who have answered the call to ministry as a second career, he added.
The Young Adult Seminarian Network, formed in 2004 for seminarians 35 and younger, may be able to encourage other young adults who are considering ministry as a first-career choice, Felder said. And, he said, the network builds connections and relationships the seminarians can build on for years as they attend annual conferences and jurisdictional meetings.
The role the group might play in encouraging other young adults considering a call to ministry became evident during meetings the group held May 26-29 at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., in conjunction with Student Forum 2005. One of the network's purposes is to provide advocacy, resources, support and community for young seminarians. Goals include planning a national gathering, developing a model for Sabbath retreats and establishing an Internet presence.
"Several of the undergraduate students attending Student Forum (held at the same time), came to some of our discussions," Meyers said.
In addition to the AIDS projects, the group plans a Sabbath retreat, both to talk about ways to have Sabbath time and to "actually do it," Meyers said.
"Kind of the joke in seminary about Sabbath time was that you can read a book about it," she said. But young adults entering ministry need to understand spiritual discipline so they won't burn out, she said.
Shonda Jones, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, said young adults in seminary face unique issues.
"There's an assumption that because they are young, they'll do youth ministry, whether or not they feel called to youth ministry," said Jones, 35, an adviser to the seminarian group.
"If you go to seminary right out of college, you get out at about 25, and you might go to a church with an average age of 50," said Jones, who is a probationary member of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference. While some young seminarians said their church "takes them under their wing," others have faced difficulties when members of their congregation have concluded the pastor has too little life experience for the job.
Michelle Blume, a seminarian at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., who is transferring to the Divinity School at Duke University in Durham, N.C. this fall, said the group has made friends of seminarians with vastly different theological perspectives. Blume cited her own friendship with Cripps through their work on the AIDS project.
"Asbury and Claremont are so different, but this network allowed us to work on the same thing, and we're friends now," Blume said. "If we can bring seminarians from across theological spectrums together, it's a start."
She said she hopes those relationships will carry over to General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body. "It's harder to shoot someone and what they believe down if you know that person," she said.
"We're not going to be pitted against each other because of moral issues or different interpretations of (the) Scripture," she said. "How much better we work if we know someone as a sister or brother in Christ."
*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.